All of a sudden, just about every family in the United States is now homeschooling. Or at least experiencing what I would call “temporary unexpected homeschooling”. The traditional homeschool families are pretty much running business as usual, minus their outside activities and co-ops, but their neighbors may be struggling with this new and challenging experience. So if you are reading this as a veteran homeschooling family, please pass this on to those you know that could benefit from this information. We are all in this together now.
I started posting a few tips on my personal Facebook page, but decided to write a formal blog post with a collection of tips and tricks, as well as a compilation of additional homeschooling blog posts I have written over the years. Hopefully you will find this helpful during your “physical distancing”. Because that’s what we really want. Not necessarily the buzzword “social distancing,” which makes it sound like we must all be locked away in separate chambers. It can be easy to give in to loneliness and fear if we think that we must keep away from everyone. During this time we will need to find new ways to stay socially connected, both within our families and the wider world, just from a safe distance.
I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years. I’m seeing a lot of stress coming from public school families who are suddenly being forced to homeschool. I just want to say… it’s OK to relax. We have had periods where school was impossible due to a crisis (Regina’s birth forced me to shut down school basically for the rest of the year in March) – months at a time we did the absolute bare minimum. And it was OK. My kids didn’t get behind.
Take this time to snuggle your kids. We’re living through a weird and confusing time. If you are feeling stressed, then imagine what this must be like for a child. Read a favorite book together. Watch movies. Bake cookies. Maybe they could read you their favorite book. Draw pictures, watch the birds at the feeder, play a board game. Learning happens all the time, and you don’t have to recreate a school schedule at home.
We homeschool in the mornings, usually starting around 9am and formal learning is done by lunch for my 10-year-old. The rest of the day she’s free to use screens, play, read, draw, whatever. Screens get a bad wrap nowadays, but honestly, right now they are going to be a live saver for kids who are used to being social.
Homeschooling tip: one way to avoid power struggles is to stop thinking of yourself as their teacher. You and your child are both on the same team. Learn right along with them. Get excited about something new that you learned and show it to them. Let them show you something cool that they learned. This shows them that learning is something that happens outside of school time (and well into adulthood), but it will also be a great way to bond with your kids.
You will find that many of the concepts you can use in the short-term are very similar to the long-term tried and true methods many of us have been using all along.
Routine is more important than a schedule. I hate schedules. They are stressful and if you get even a little bit off track, it can throw everything out of whack. But routines… routines are comforting. They give you just enough structure to feel secure without the stress of following a clock. Find a way to create this rhythm in your day. For example:
You get the idea. Notice I didn’t add times to any of those activities? If you wake up early or late, the routine doesn’t change. The idea is to create familiarity. Kids thrive on knowing what comes next.
Kids are resilient. They will learn whether they are in a school building or not, and they will not get behind. What is behind anyway? I have always hated those arbitrary guidelines. Children learn on their own timetable. I’ve had late readers and early readers, and guess what? They all end up in the same place in the end. So don’t stress out about making every waking moment of their day educational.
Public schools take 6 hours a day because they have to allot time for crowd management. I have never met a homeschooler who spent 6 hours a day on formal learning. If the assigned school work that your child is set to do takes 45 minutes, it’s perfectly fine if they spend the rest of the day in free play. Over the course of the day, your children will ask questions. Let those questions lead you down rabbit trails. These have led my family to some of our most exciting learning adventures.
Don’t know the answer to their questions? Let them know that you don’t know, then help them find the answer. This is what real learning looks like – being inquisitive and find the answers.
You do not have to entertain your child for the entire day. I repeat, you do NOT have to entertain your child 24/7.
Kids are allowed to be bored. In fact, boredom often leads to creativity! If you want to guide them a bit, strew some activities around that you think they might find interesting. Maybe put out some art supplies, or a fun activity kit they got 3 Christmases ago but never opened. Queue up some interesting shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Pull out a stack of books to read together. But let them be. Children learn the best when they are curious and interested.
If your children are constantly complaining about being bored, or you need some ideas to encourage them to leave their screens alone for a bit, here’s a list to get you started:
I’m about to share an unpopular opinion: screen time is not a bad thing. In fact, over the next weeks (months) it is going to be critical in keeping all of us sane. There are plenty of educational apps and online activities on a smartphone or tablet. My 10-year-old is loving the daily Facebook live streams from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. And there are so many places offering free online content. You probably should encourage time limits, but please don’t feel guilty about allowing your child to play video games, watch YouTube videos, or watch TV.
We’re living in crisis-mode. This is not normal. So while we want to encourage our children to read or play outside, if they need to de-stress via Minecraft or Fortnite that is perfectly okay. And if you are finding yourself trying to work from home, parking your children in front of the television to watch a movie so you can work is a necessity.
If you don’t make a big deal about avoiding screens and allow your children to manage their free play, you might be pleasantly surprised by how they choose to spend their time.
When you are stuck at home, what could be better than getting lost in a good book? You might feel like you need to make this educational or focused on current events. Don’t. In times like this, reading is an escape. So find a really exciting story and share it with your children. What was your favorite book as a kid? Read that. Grab some comic books or graphic novels (they count as literature too!)
You can explore the book lists for my Build Your Library lesson plans by grade level even if you are not following the entire curriculum. But if you want a few ideas to get going, here are some books that make for a great escape:
If you can’t visit your library, you might be able to find these titles (and many more) via their Overdrive app. Overdrive works with libraries to provide access to free ebooks and audiobooks which can be a fantastic resource while practicing physical distancing.
Don’t feel comfortable reading aloud? Audiobooks are a wonderful way to enjoy a book as a family. In fact, Audible is offering many free audiobooks right now: https://stories.audible.com/discovery
I know that’s a tall order. We’re all stressed out and worried. But we have this rare opportunity to be still and spend time together with our families. Don’t let your stress rub off on your children. Cuddle on the couch. Watch a favorite movie together. Take a walk and observe the changing of the seasons. Bring a sketch book along and draw things that you see. Two of my kids would draw all day long if I let them.
Put on your favorite music and dance and sing. Be silly. Be present in the moment. We can make the difference in this being a time of fear and worry or a time of love and togetherness.
“Physical Distancing” doesn’t have to mean no “social interaction.”
You probably already Skype (or Facetime, or Amazon Portal, or other online video calling) with the grandparents every so often. There is nothing saying you can’t schedule a virtual playdate with the neighbor down the street, from the safe distance of each of your own living rooms.
Granite State Karate where my daughter takes classes have been teaching on Facebook Live and Zoom since they had to shut down the in dojo sessions. The kickboxing fitness club next door to them also runs live-stream classes. It isn’t exactly the same, but it is a great alternative to taking weeks off. The Facebook Live classes are one-way, but the instructor will talk to you by name if you comment during the stream. The Zoom sessions are 2-way video feeds, so the instructors can also see you and interact directly.
If one of your regular outside of the house activities is on hiatus, see if they thought about taking it to the internet. From a Skype guitar lesson, to your child’s soccer coach just saying hello and giving your child a drill to do on their own will go a long way in staying connected.
Build Your Library has a Support Page for our homeschool customers with plenty of links to more information, including a consolidated list of all of our blog posts. There is tons of useful information if you scan through the titles and see what might be of interest to you.
If you are looking for a quick but insightful read on how homeschooling works in the method that BuildYourLibrary.com uses, I have just the book for you.
In A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling, I lay out how to bring Charlotte Mason’s ideology into the modern age for secular homeschoolers. In conversational prose, I discuss the key tenets used in homeschooling and explain how to make them work for your family. This is available on Amazon with instant delivery to your Kindle, or a couple days Amazon Prime to your door.
Here is a hand-picked list of some articles I have written that you might find of particular interest.
We are all in this together. It might feel like this is going to last forever, but it won’t. This too shall pass. Things will go back to normal, or at least, a new normal. I saw a beautiful and inspiring meme floating around on social media that I wanted to quote at the end here:
“I know this. When this ends – AND IT WILL – every game will sell out, every restaurant will have a 2-hour wait, every kid will be glad to be in school, everyone will love their job, the stock market will skyrocket, every house will get TP’d, and we’ll all embrace and shake hands. That’s gonna be a pretty good day. Hang in there, World.”
That is unless you all totally fall in love with homeschooling permanently, and buy all of my curriculum. I’ll be right there with you too.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.